Colorizing Old Photos: A 1923 Thanksgiving Tablescape

By Maureen A. Taylor

Our Ancestors’ Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! This 1920s table is set for a holiday meal. In 1923, the Underwood Co., publisher of stereoviews, sold this image. I’m not sure the intent of the picture, but perhaps it shows a model for our ancestors’ idea of the perfect holiday meal.

You can tell a story with a single picture. What do you see in this image?

  • two chairs
  • two candles
  • two place settings
  • a turkey (or perhaps a large chicken)
  • a cloth table covering
  • a basket cornucopia of fruits and vegetables (the centerpiece)

Besides the table, this room has a hanging lamp, a couple of pictures on the wall and a combination sideboard/hutch (on the right).

This picture gives us insight into the holiday festivities for this mythical couple. It’s a time capsule of Thanksgiving in 1923.

This particular image tells us that only two people were at dinner and that the turkey/chicken was the main part of the meal.

Have you ever taken a picture of your holiday table before everyone sits down? I have. It helps me remember what we had for dinner that year, how I decorated the table (now called a “tablescape” on the decorating shows), how many people came, and who brought what dish.

Colorize Old Pictures for a Look at Your Ancestor’s World

It’s easy to imagine our ancestors’ world as black and white, but of course they were surrounded by color. Algorithmia is a free site that helps you colorize black-and-white pictures to bring them closer to a real-life view.

It’s easy to use. Upload a picture to the site and see a comparison of the image in black and white, and color. You can move the purple line to see where the tinting happens. In this case, the stark-looking setting becomes a warm dining room.

Here’s the colored image. Notice that not all of the items on the table were colorized. This isn’t a professionally Photoshopped colorization with historically accurate shades, but it does enable you to quickly take a different look at your pictures.

You can download the comparison and the final colorized image, albeit with the site’s watermark.

This Thanksgiving, take a break from the after-dinner clean-up and see how this site transforms your old family photos. The dishes can wait.

See others’ colorized photos and share your favorite colorized photo with us on the Family Tree Magazine Facebook page. We’d love to see them!

Identify your old mystery family photos with these guides by Maureen A. Taylor:

  • Family Photo Detective: Learn How to Find Genealogy Clues in Old Photos and Solve Family Photo Mysteries
  • Fashionable Folks: Bonnets and Hats 1840-1900
  • Finding the Civil War in Your Family Album
  • Hairstyles 1840-1900
  • Photo-Organizing Practices
  • Preserving Your Family Photographs
  • Searching for Family History Photos: How to Get Them Now
  • SaveSave